Tammara Bondesen is a passion expert.
The Winnipeg florist helps the lovestruck, the optimistic and the sorry improve their chances.
"Flowers are special to people. They are a symbol of so much," says the bubbly 55-year-old. "They're always the right thing to give someone."
This year, she was very popular with people who missed Valentine's Day.
Her true passion is The Tulip Florist & Gifts, the business she runs with her husband, Bruce, 60. Their snug Portage Avenue space was once a shambles of a store. The couple rented it a year ago, put thousands of dollars into renovations and set out to restore the image and the reputation of the place. It was gutted, IKEA furniture installed and the entire store overhauled.
They opened Feb. 11, 2009, just before Valentine's Day. That was the best possible timing. On a day when suitors will buy flowers at a gas station if they have to, a florist is a beacon of hope.
But walk-ins aren't a big part of any florist shop. The couple didn't wait for people to find them, says Bruce. They went out beating the bushes for clients.
"We used all our contacts," says Bruce, who was formerly in the music business. "You pick up the phone and you call people. We've got corporate clients like the Clarion Hotel and CancerCare."
They also provided arrangements for the Winnipeg Folk Festival (Bruce was a longtime volunteer) and will get a piece of the Manitoba Homecoming budget.
Tammara used to work at a large downtown florist. There were "a lot of suits," she says, and they had the disposable income to spend on flower arrangements. She phoned most of them when she opened her own business.
The florist has a set of business rules she follows relentlessly. The key to her success is the three-second rule, she says.
"If I go into a store and I have to wait and wait to catch the salesclerk's attention, I leave. When someone comes in, I stop whatever I'm doing, smile and ask how I can help them. You want them to come back."
The other secret of running a successful florist shop, they both agree, is planning.
"Honestly, you have to know what you're doing. You always have to have lots of weddings," says Tammara. "Funerals are good, too."
She learned her trade as a 15-year-old, apprenticing without pay at a local business. Over the years, she developed her eye and her confidence. Bruce jokes she's the creative one and he's the courier. She's quick to give him credit for being able to assemble lovely arrangements. He also does a fine job with the deliveries, she adds.
There are other business secrets. Many of the pretty vases lining the wall are second-hand. Some came with the store. Others were bargain finds. They say they won't charge a client $20 for a $2 vase.
Tammara has become a master of buying because flowers only last a week in her fridge. She throws out very few, she says. If they're tossed, that's a business loss. The couple are constantly searching for fresh arrangement possibilities and interesting flowers, she says.
"I'm always in the books, looking, looking, looking. I think the brighter the better."
You won't see any dried flowers in her shop. You will see what she calls "edgy" flowers, spider mums and birds of paradise and the like. The pair openly admit upselling is a part of the job. If they can convince you to add greenery, they make a little more money.
However, the sky-high prices of roses on Valentine's Day? Not their fault. Wholesalers triple their prices and pass them on to retailers who pass them on to customers.
Tammara says her job is to both please and accommodate her clients.
"A lot of older people like the traditional. Younger ones are more edgy. They want something they haven't see before."
The pair know that while Valentine's Day is huge, Mother's Day is bigger. The romantic Hallmark occasion is usually over and done within 24 hours. People buy their moms flowers throughout the week. If they're good children, that is.
So far, the Bondesens are not getting rich. Tammara doesn't draw a salary. They split their hours so each can have a break during the day. She doesn't believe in closing the door during advertised hours ("If you show up and I'm not there, you won't come back."). With luck, they'll be able to hire part-time help this year.
Bruce says the pair made a little bit of money in their first year. They should double or triple that amount this year.
He believes the business is recession-proof.
"My research indicates people are still being born, people are still dying and there a lot of good times in between."